“The Wereth Eleven” is an epic docudrama based on the true story of the heroic battle waged against the attacking German army at the start of the Battle of the Bulge, and the dramatic escape made by 11 American soldiers. The film premieres nationwide on National Geographic Channel on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. EST and the screening will be at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. CST.
“The Wereth Eleven” retraces the steps of the 11 soldiers of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion who escaped The 18th Volksgrenadiers after their unit was overrun at the start of the Battle of the Bulge. Their 10-mile trek from their battery position to Wereth, Belgium led them to refuge with a Belgian family until a Nazi sympathizer revealed their presence to an SS Reconn Patrol. The soldiers surrendered, but were taken to a field, where they were tortured, maimed, and shot on Dec. 17, 1944. The killings were investigated, but never prosecuted.
“I was really moved and saddened by this story. I thought the men’s dignity was taken from them, and that really bothered me,” stated Joseph Small, executive producer of “The Wereth Eleven.” “I set out on a mission to make sure the citizens of America and Europe knew what happened to the 11 men and make sure they knew the contribution of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion during World War II.”
Small spent the next two years researching the events that took place on the fateful day and eventually enlisted the help of writer and director, Robert Child (“Lincoln and Lee at Antietam: The Cost of Freedom”) to bring the gut wrenching story to the screen.
“This film is the result of a dedicated team working together to achieve one goal: to create a film worthy of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion and the 11 men,” stated Child. “I knew, to pull off the project, I had to put the right people in place. Frederic Lumiere, an outstanding filmmaker in his own right, had produced and directed History Channel’s groundbreaking 10-Part series, ‘WWII in HD.’ If there was anyone I knew who could rise to the challenge of Wereth, it was Frederic.”
The filmmakers set out to elevate war documentary recreations to a new level. The film had to portray the epic and harsh nature of the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the Americans in World War II. “Rob’s vision was very ambitious: To create visuals for the film that rivaled epic Hollywood blockbusters,” stated Lumiere, who edited the film. “But we also knew we had a very important story on our hands. We had the responsibility to continue Joseph Small’s quest to let the world know about this incredible injustice, which occurred 67 years ago to 11 American heroes, while remaining historically accurate.”
The powerful and poignant film is an epic docudrama with stunning Hollywood-grade visual effects, interviews with people who were there, and archival footage.
In one of the archival films, captured men of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion are paraded for German propaganda. After some investigating, one of the men was identified and interviewed: Retired Staff Sergeant George Shomo. Now 90 years old and a resident of northern New Jersey, Shomo offers a shocking and brutally honest personal account of what it was like to be an African American in World War II. “As a black soldier in the United States Army, you weren’t as good as a dog,” stated Shomo. Outnumbered 10 to one, Shomo and his fellow soldiers were left behind to fight the Germans. “We fired until we ran out of ammunition. It’s hard when a man’s got a rifle coming at you and all you got is a trench knife. But I got a couple (of men) and some of the other guys got a couple. I’d say the Germans had to walk over piles of their dead to get to us.”
A memorial now stands on the site of the soldier’s murders, dedicated to the Wereth 11 and all African-American soldiers who fought in The European Theatre. It is believed to be the only memorial to African-American soldiers of World War II in Europe.
“The Wereth Eleven” was produced by The Ardennes Group with executive producers Small, Child, and Lumiere.
The world premiere will be on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. EST on National Geographic Channel. A theatrical screening and Q&A with the filmmakers and George Shomo will be at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. CST. Click here to view the trailer for “The Wereth Eleven.”